The best hay in the Southeast can be seen at the Sunbelt Expo.

Extension forage agronomists from the Southeast are once again coordinating the 2011 Southeastern Hay Contest. The winning entries will be recognized at this year’s farm show.

The 2011 Southeastern Hay Contest exhibit will once again be located in the Bill Patten Beef Pavilion at location E-8 of the Expo exhibit grounds.

Six categories of hay and baleage are eligible for the contest. These include warm season perennial grass hay such as bermudagrass and bahiagrass; perennial peanut or alfalfa hay; cool season perennial grass hay such as tall fescue and orchardgrass; mixed, annual grass or other hay such as clover-fescue, clover-ryegrass, millet, or ryegrass alone; grass baleage which includes high moisture grass forage ensiled in wrapped bales; and legume baleage such as high moisture legume or legume-grass forage mixes ensiled in wrapped bales.

The hay entries will be judged using near infrared testing procedures by the University of Georgia Feed and Environmental Water Lab. The entries will be ranked using the Relative Forage Quality (RFQ) evaluation system to account for protein, energy and fiber digestibility.

RFQ can also be a marketing tool since it allows hay producers to categorize and price hay based on its overall quality. For instance, hay with an RFQ value of 155 or higher might be marketed as premium quality hay.

If necessary, ties in RFQ scores for the contest will be broken based on a visual evaluation of the hay samples by forage specialists from Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

The contest is open to any forage producer from the Southeast. Entries must be submitted by the farm where the forage was grown. The entry forms are also signed by county or regional Extension agents to verify that contest rules have been followed. Local Extension agents will also have information on entering the contest next year.

Analysis will be available

The analysis results are made available to the producers and the Extension agents about seven to 10 days after the samples are submitted. Display samples from the winning entries will also be available during the show for visitors to see for themselves what high quality hay should look like.

The contest rules require that hay must be taken from fields with a minimum maturity or re-growth of at least 25 days to ensure fair competition. Hay from fields with less than 25 days of growth is disqualified.

Forage samples for analysis and contest entry must be collected using a hay probe.

Also, forage samples with more than 5,000 parts per million of nitrate on a dry matter basis will be disqualified. Dry hay samples with more than 18 percent moisture will also be disqualified, but there are no moisture requirements for entries in the baleage categories.

The contest remains popular among hay producers. In last year’s contest, 210 entries were received from throughout the Southeast.

However, forage quality took a dip during 2010. The overall average RFQ for entries submitted last year was just under 103. This was the lowest average RFQ since the contest began in 2004.

One of the main reasons for the decline in overall quality was due to a large number of bermudagrass entries in the contest last year.  In general, bermudagrass hay quality is lower than that produced by other forage species, especially when nitrogen fertilizer is lacking and when intervals between cuttings extend to eight weeks or longer.

Extension forage agronomists also noted that growing conditions during 2010 were challenging. For instance, hay harvesting was often delayed due to sporadic but frequent afternoon showers. Also, summer temperatures last year were hot. The high temperatures and humid nighttime weather also contributed to the drop in forage quality.

Here are the winners from last year’s contest:

With an RFQ score of 124, Cherry Farms of Walton County, Ga., produced the highest quality warm season perennial grass hay. There were 138 entries in this category and RFQ scores ranged from a low of 49 to the high of 124.

An RFQ score of 204 gave Vickers Still Farm of Coffee County, Ga., the winning entry in the perennial peanut-alfalfa hay category. There were 19 entries in this category and RFQ scores ranged from 105 to 204.

An entry from Duncan Legacy Farm in Carroll County, Ga., was the winner among 12 entries in the cool season perennial grass hay category. This farm’s hay sample had an RFQ score of 125.

Trice Farm from Upson County, Ga., had the winning entry in the mixed and annual grass hay category. This farm’s entry had an RFQ score of 209.

In the grass baleage category, Verner Farms of Morgan County, Ga., had the winning entry with an RFQ score of 192.

The legume baleage category was won by Ron Prokop of Walton County, Fla., with an RFQ score of 112.